Is Unemployment Contributing to Substance Addiction Among Young Adults?

Do you have a loved one who is a young adult going through joblessness while battling substance addiction? The economic downturn in the past years brought by the COVID-19 pandemic has added to the pains felt by young adults who recently entered the workplace. Researchers find that those who were unemployed and had higher education were especially likely to develop substance dependence. Among young adults who have just entered the labor market, unemployment can dash their dreams to the extent of increasing their risk for substance addiction.

How Are Young Adults Coping With the Economic Downturn?

We live in a time of worldwide economic downturn partly due to the prolonged COVID-19 public health crisis. Research has shown that even before the pandemic, unemployment has been closely associated with substance use problems among young adults. Joblessness creates stress, income loss, and an intensified sense of failure, which all increase the risk for substance use. Therefore, economic hardship has been regarded as a stressor to addiction problems.

From a life-course perspective, young adulthood is a time of transition to early career paths, as well as social and economic independence. Young people who have had good education often aspire to achieve great things. However, the larger picture does not necessarily facilitate that. An economic downturn brings structural unemployment, which is beyond anyone’s capacity to overcome. Young people who are hit by this frustrating tide, depending on how long his or her joblessness continues, may enter into a dark period of self-doubt and hopelessness.

What Are Harmful Effects of Substance Addiction on Young Adults?

For young adults who use substances as a way to self-soothe during joblessness, the bad news is that frequent use might turn into an addiction, which can sabotage one’s physical and mental health for the long term, further disqualifying them from pursuing a career. Although many young adults don’t think their active use of substances is immediately noticeable, repeated use and addiction will sooner or later reveal themselves.

One’s changes in mood and behaviors due to the negative effects of drugs and alcohol will be cumulative but definitive. These changes or lack of emotional and cognitive capacities may prevent them from fulfilling future job responsibilities. They can also disrupt social relationships, further isolating the individual from his or her support system. In sum, developing substance addiction during a time of unemployment can be highly risky. One’s mental health might embark on a tragic journey of no return.

Why Don’t They Seek Treatment?

Both unemployment and substance use have been stigmatized by society at large. There are many stereotypical beliefs that consider both unemployment and substance addiction as results of personal moral failure. Sometimes these stigmatizing beliefs can manifest through the actions of family, friends, care providers, and even health professionals. The desire to avoid such stigmatization may hinder people from seeking mental health care or addiction treatment. 

How Can Young Adults Fight Off Such Stigma?

There are ways to address the stigma, and everyone has a role to play. First, there needs to be a narrative change that promotes personal stories instead of stereotypical beliefs. Second, family and friends of an impacted young adult should act to form a stronger support system, and their role is to encourage and support, not to blame or shame. Lastly, there can be more bridging institutions to help young adults transition into society in a time of economic uncertainty.

Treatment specialists and the recovery community, in general, need to be aware of the increasing scale of this problem among young working adults and young professionals. A holistic approach would be to support the recovery of the whole person, including his or her sense of economic security, self-esteem, mental wellness, and sobriety. This requires the recovery community to build stronger connections with other sectors, such as social services and prevention organizations.

How Can Interventionists Help Young Adults?

Young people who are experiencing the brunt of unemployment, mental health issues, and addiction need a strong support system. Unfortunately, not many young people in this situation like to reach out to their parents. The communication channel is not effective enough to provide support when they are in need. A professional interventionist can help bridge this gap in communication.

First, an interventionist can coach the young person and the parents on the importance of seeking treatment, as the first priority in this young person’s life. Second, an interventionist can help connect with necessary resources in the community for treatment and post-treatment care. These are important steps for personal recovery, which should be a priority for a young adult so that they can face other challenges in life.

Do you have a loved one who is a young adult or young professional struggling with job loss and substance addiction? The COVID-19 pandemic has hit young professionals hard. Many are experiencing mental health issues triggered by the stress over economic insecurity. To help your loved one more effectively, you need to become more informed about the intersections of economic insecurity and substance addiction. You may want to consider working with a professional interventionist. At South Florida Intervention, our professionally trained interventionists have helped many teens and young adults in achieving and maintaining sobriety in the most adverse circumstances. We know how to do non-confrontational recovery coaching with young people, including young adults and professionals. We are also committed to supporting you and connecting you with trusted health professionals who offer a range of programs from detox treatment to therapies and counseling. You can also benefit from our detailed case management. Call us today at (202) 390-2273.